Free software is computer software which is distributed with permission from its creator for anyone to use, study, modify, and redistribute for any purpose. The term “free software” was coined by Richard Stallman in 1985 in the GNU Manifesto.

Free software is generally open source software and is not necessarily zero cost since some of its components may be proprietary elements. This enables developers to create software that can be used and modified freely without fear of lawsuits or copyright infringement.

The four essential freedoms of free software as articulated by Richard Stallman and the Free Software Foundation are:
* The freedom to run the program, for any purpose
* The freedom to examine the source code, and modify it
* The freedom to redistribute copies, either gratis or charging a fee
* The freedom to distribute modified versions

Free software is legally and ethically different from shareware, because shareware restricts or prohibits the redistribution of the software. The main criterion for free software is that users have the freedom to run, copy, distribute, study, change and improve it.

While free software has been around since the dawn of the internet, the most popular versions are open source projects, such as Linux, Apache, and Open source software can be used in both commercial and non-commercial activities, however maintaining and developing the programs often requires large amounts of volunteer and financial resources.

The availability of free software has had a major impact on the software industry. It has enabled start-up companies to create software without having to pay for expensive licenses or royalties. It has also allowed for the development of new and interesting software such as web browsers, spreadsheets, databases, and media players. Additionally, free software has enabled new applications such as internet telephony, and wireless networking.

In conclusion, it is clear that free software has had a significant impact on the computing industry. By allowing anyone to access, modify, and redistribute software, free software has helped increase the efficiency and capability of developers, as well as enabled the creation of powerful and innovative applications.

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